This young quartet, comprising Adam Barnett-Hart, Aaron Boyd, Pierre Lapointe, and Dane Johansen, has more accomplishments than you can shake a well-rosined bow at: BBC New Generation Artists; Quartet in Residence at Canada’s National Arts Centre and Shelter Island, New York; regular performers at the Concertgebouw and Wigmore Hall; their concert diary bursts at the seams, taking them for the first time to Hong Kong in the new year.
Their visit to Hong Kong sees them as a quartet in collaboration with artists such as clarinettist Burt Hara and bassist DaXun Zhang, as well as the Quartet’s individual members performing with other artists at the festival. Second violin Aaron Boyd, for example, is playing with the Quartet’s violist Pierre Lapointe in a Brahms string quintet with Martin Beaver, Brian Chen, and Lynn Harrell, giving the members of the Quartet a chance to flex their creativity in a collaborative setting, away from the ‘Escher’ identity.
The schedule is no doubt going to be tough during their visit. Gruelling rehearsal timetables, plus extended periods of being away from home, can often put strain on relationships inside the group. Aaron tells me about the challenges the Quartet faces on such a trip.
‘Working together intensely, as we do, has its difficulties and rewards, but a smart quartet knows how to balance privacy with togetherness in order to keep things fresh.
‘Travel can be made more pleasant, in fact, when done so with friends and colleagues.’
The decision of who to collaborate with is a constant dialogue between organisers, directors, promoters, agents, and, of course, the Quartet.
‘There are so many artists with whom we would like to work; the difficulty is in finding an artist whose schedule fits with ours. We’ve been extremely lucky in our collaborations and this trip to Hong Kong is no exception. With artists like Cho-Liang Lin, Kyoko Takezawa, Lynn Harrell, Wu Han, and members of the Tokyo Quartet, just to name a few, we are looking forward to a most extraordinary week of music-making.’
No wonder the Eschers have people lining up to collaborate with them – they have been one of the only ensembles ever to have bestowed upon them an Avery Fischer Career Grant, an accolade allowing the Quartet to benefit from the exposure and reputation having such an award brings.
The Quartet’s versatility is reflected in their list of collaborators, notably jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and saxophonist Joshua Redman. When alone, however, who is their composer of choice?
‘A string quartet is the recipient of the most profoundly beautiful repertoire in all of music and we are grateful to have the daily task of wrestling with the music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.
‘That said, the four of us do seem to agree that we love to play the rather lesser-known quartets of Dvorak, the quartets of Benjamin Britten (performing the cycle of his quartets in 2012 might rank as a highlight by the way!) and, without a doubt, the great, late, Schuberts.’
And despite any differences that may arise during rehearsals, there’s always one thing that the Eschers can agree on.
‘None of us have yet had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong. This is a first and exciting opportunity to see the city and play with the greatest musicians. What we anticipate the most depends on the location of course, but there is almost always one thing the four of us look forward to equally; a delicious meal!’
The Escher Quartet will be performing at the HKICMF in January 2015.
Beethoven – Quartet in A minor for Strings, Op.132, Mvt 1